By Scott Taylor
Early next month the first of an estimated 450 Canadian troops will begin deploying into Latvia. The purpose of this mission is part of a major NATO effort known as Enhanced Forward Presence to deter any Russian aggression into the Baltic States. Given that Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia all became full-fledged members of the NATO alliance in 2004, this deployment of thousands of NATO troops along the Russian border is an unnecessary provocation of the Kremlin.
Article Five of the NATO Treaty states that if an armed attack occurs against one of the member states, it is to be considered as an armed attack against all members and, as such, they are entitled to collective defence. In other words, the Baltic States are already protected by the overwhelming might of NATO’s military power.
By their very definition, the multi-national forces being deployed into the Baltic are described as a tripwire defence. Defence experts have speculated that even with the bolstering of some 4,000 NATO troops from 15 different countries, Russian forces would roll over the Baltic in 36 to 60 hours.
If it were to be a true military deterrent — in other words, an effective fighting force — it would not be constituted as a hodgepodge of nations. For instance, the Canadian-led force will be augmented with soldiers from Albania, Italy, Poland, Slovenia and Spain. All of these countries are capable of producing excellent war fighters, but battlefield communications could prove problematic.
Even though Canada is a fully bilingual nation and our armed forces reflect that bilingualism, we still have enough common sense to segregate our combat forces into English- and French-speaking units. When you are locked in a life-or-death struggle, where every moment counts, you do not want to be relying on Google Translate to communicate with your allies.
In theory, the presence of soldiers from an additional 15 NATO countries would mean that, in the event of a full-scale Russian invasion, all contributing nations would have dead soldiers to avenge, not just Baltic states to liberate.
However, unless Putin loses his marbles, he will never challenge a NATO alliance that collectively spends more than 20 times the annual Russian defence budget, and whose military manpower dwarfs those of the Russian forces.
To keep the sabres rattling and the Cold War revisited, the usual alarmists point to the fact that this summer Russia will be conducting a massive military exercise. Scary stuff indeed, with an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 troops conducting exercises all along Russia’s western borders. Except that these Zapad exercises (literally meaning west) have been conducted every four years since 2009.
Despite the Chicken Little predictions that Putin will use this assembly of troops to unleash Armageddon upon us, by all estimates this year’s Zapad operation will be significantly smaller than the one conducted in 2013.
Then we have the magnified fear of a full-scale Russian disinformation campaign against the NATO troops that will soon be stationed in the Baltic. This fear is so overwhelming that Canadian commanders made the decision to keep our soldiers locked up on their Latvian bases for the duration of their tours.
That’s right folks, our young warriors are deploying to Latvia to protect the citizenry from the evil Russians, and they will not be allowed to socially interact with those same locals for fear that the Russians will invent atrocities. Any excursion off the base will therefore be supervised outings to places like local museums and restaurants.
Under such circumstances, boredom will become our soldiers’ worst enemy. This is not a shooting war like they faced in Afghanistan; it is simply NATO putting soldiers on the Russian border to show that we can. For these soldiers to be confined to barracks — far from home and loved ones for extended periods of time — makes no sense.
We can better avoid Russian disinformation by not putting our soldiers in Latvia. The hundreds of millions of dollars we will spend on building infrastructure and logistic support for this mission would be better spent on Canadian bases.
As for the security of Latvia, rest assured that NATO members will uphold the sanctity of Article Five — with or without our soldiers being in harm’s way.